Ephesians 4:1-6, John 6:24-35
So often, we live at the surface of life, accepting things as they are, aware that there are deeper places within that we could go, or a bolder calling that we could answer, but somehow, we’re distracted by life, focussed on superficial things, and full of questions and doubts - and so we live at the surface of life.
In the gospel today, Jesus says - ‘Go deep’. He says life at the surface of things will never satisfy. Come with me, let’s go deep.
So let’s have a look at the gospel reading together. I’m going to go through the passage, to get the overall sense of what’s happening, and as we go through, I’m going to pick out three particular things that Jesus says, each of them encouraging us to go deep, and for each of them I’m going to offer you a question for reflection.
To get the sense of what’s really going on, we need to start by rewinding slightly to what has happened before our passage begins. Chapter 6 of John’s gospel opens with Jesus surrounded by people who have seen him healing and who want more. They’re out in the countryside and there’s no food except for a couple of loaves and fish. You know the story - Jesus gives thanks for this meagre packed lunch and hands it round - and everyone, 5,000 people, are fed - and there’s loads left over too.
Reasonably enough, people are staggered by what has happened and respond by trying to make Jesus their King. Someone who can do that, they think, must be the one who’s going to sort everything out. But Jesus doesn’t want to be the kind of King they are looking for, and he heads off further into the wilderness to be on his own.
At the end of the day - we’re at verse 16 now - his disciples decide to head home without him, back across the Lake of Galilee. A storm whips up, and there, as they row hard against the rising waves, is Jesus - walking on water. He joins them in the boat and together they reach Capernaum and dry land.
Two astonishing, miraculous events bring us to our passage for today, which starts with the crowd looking for Jesus out where he had been the day before. When they can’t find him, they follow him across the lake to Capernaum and ask ‘when did you get here?’
He responds by pointing out that they were looking for him because they want more food - more of the free bread and fish that had been handed round the previous day. Bear in mind that most Galilean peasants were living right on the edge of survival - that bread and fish weren’t like the latest granola bar that’s handed out at the train station as part of a product launch. No wonder people wanted more. But Jesus tells them the free food isn’t the point. That’s just surface living. Go deep.
He says - ‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.’ Don’t be looking for more ‘stuff’. Don’t put your effort into things that are here today and gone tomorrow - invest in the one thing that will last forever.
For his listeners, that must have been a shock. After all, life was a struggle, and food was scarce. But Jesus doesn’t live in a world of scarcity. He lives in a world that is abundant and overflowing; in which the birds and the lilies are provided for; in which jars of ordinary water can give the very best wine to a wedding party; in which 5 loaves and 2 fish are enough for 5,000 and with leftovers to spare. Read John’s gospel and you’ll see it on every page - there is such abundance. Open your eyes, says Jesus, this is God’s world and God’s world cannot be defined by scarcity and lack; God’s world is a world of overflowing plenty.
Sure, says Jesus, life is a struggle, it really is - but go deep with me and discover that there is enough. More than enough. Walk with me and I’ll show you a different way, I’ll show you how to live in an abundant world, in which the things that really matter are the focus of life.
So, here’s a first question for you ponder on: * Where in your life are you living with scarcity and with anxiety that there isn’t enough (of whatever)? or Where are you working for food that perishes, rather than that which endures for eternal life?
Ok, the crowd reply, that sounds cool. What do we need to do to go deep? What do we need to do to live in this world of abundant plenty?
And Jesus says. Don’t do anything. Believe. Believe in me. ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’.
Eh? Don’t do anything? The crowd are expecting a task. A series of tests perhaps. A law to live by. A religious ritual they can perform. And we might feel the same. To be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is about doing stuff, right? Going to church, praying regularly, serving those less fortunate than ourselves.
No, says Jesus. The work of God is to believe in me. And the word ‘believe’ can just as well be translated ‘trust’ or ‘put your confidence in’. Fundamentally, our call, our task, the work that we are called to - if we want to go deep - is to trust in Jesus. To trust that he really does have our back; that he really is who he says he is; that he really is offering freedom from shame, guilt and fear or from that awful thing we did and can’t let go of.
If we want to live in God’s abundant world we have to throw it all in with Jesus - not to live at the surface with a little bit of God when we’ve got time, or with a half hearted ‘Jesus was a good guy who said some good stuff’. If we really want the life that Jesus is offering, we need to trust him with everything - not just when things work out ok, but when we’re faced with problems and challenges and disasters.
If you want to do the work of God, says Jesus, jump in; jump right in and go deep.
So, here’s a second question for reflection: What would going deeper with Jesus look like for you today?
Back to the crowd; - ok, that might be possible, but we’d like a sign please? How about you do something like Moses, and give us more bread’. After all, Moses provided bread to Israel for 40 years - not just as a one off. Could you do that? That might encourage us to do some of this ‘work’ you’re talking about…
Jesus again. That bread wasn’t from Moses - it was from God; it was God’s gift; it was life giving, world changing, wholly satisfying bread. And something even better than that bread is on offer now.
There is a beautiful line in Psalm 42 - ‘deep calls to deep’ it says. God’s deep call speaks to our deep need.
And the crowd hear deep calling to deep and reply. Hear the tone, the longing, the depth of their response. ‘Sir, give us this bread always’. Please can we have what you’re offering? Please.
And maybe they’re still just after the bread, because they’re hungry and they want to be filled.
Or maybe they’re starting to get beneath the surface. Maybe they know that Jesus is offering something more, something that really will satisfy. Maybe now they want to go deep.
Or maybe both are true. They want the immediate hit of the free food - but they also sense something more. The bread that gives life to the world.
Does any of that ring true for you?
Are you living at the surface of life and the surface of faith? Does it feel a bit mechanical at the moment? Are you going through the motions?
Or are you desperate to go deep? Ready to follow Jesus into the depths where you haven’t been before? Ready to go where he calls you, to do what he asks of you, to throw yourself in deep with him?
Or are you a bit ambivalent? Do you want more, but only sometimes? Do you want to throw everything in with Jesus…maybe? Have you tasted something of the glory and wonder of God, and know there’s so much more on offer…but maybe tomorrow?
So, here’s a final reflection. This is an invitation to have a conversation with God. And for this you need to be really honest with God. You mustn’t say what you think you’re meant to say. You mustn’t say the ‘right’ thing. You must be brutally, completely honest before the Lord: Tell God how you feel about his call upon your life.
* Here are the three reflection questions again. In a moment Wes is going to lead a song and we’ll have some time to pray with those questions - and it may that just one of them is the important one for you. There are pens around if you want to write them down. During the song, feel free to join in with the singing, or to sit and pray. Whatever’s right for you.
We can live at the surface of life. It’s ok there - it’s where most of us spend most of our life, if we’re honest. But Jesus offers something else, something richer; a life lived at depth; a life lived to the full.
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.